For the New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson continues his series of interviews with influential Chinese intellectuals and dissidents by talking with writer Yu Jie, whose biography of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has just been published in Hong Kong:
How would you describe his ideas?
He’s similar to [Soviet dissident Andrei] Sakharov. He’s not just a critic of communism but also someone who promotes virtues and values. This is an important point because there are a lot of people who criticize the communists. Liu Xiaobo also has a constructive ideology too. That line—”I have no enemies”—is really important. It’s similar to Mandela. You look at how many problems blacks in South Africa had. It could have resulted in a lot of hatred, but Mandela tried to reconcile people, and I see Liu like that too.
China doesn’t have apartheid.
No, China doesn’t have the racial component perhaps quite as much but it has fault lines, for example between country and city. The way that rural laborers are treated in the cities is similar to how blacks were treated in South Africa. If you don’t have an ideology like Liu’s to push for peaceful change, then change could result in violence.
For example, I see a big difference between him and Ai Weiwei. Western society is really interested in Ai. A lot of Western media write about Ai and gives him a place of importance. There’s a new movie about him too. I don’t think he is so important. He is an established artist and he has many theatrical actions that the media like to report about. I do strongly support some of the things he’s done, like the [accounting for the dead in the 2008 Sichuan] earthquake but a lot of his thoughts have problems.